The four out-of-state hunters who are challenging Wyoming’s corner crossing rules were found not guilty of criminal trespass or trespass to hunt by a six-member Carbon County jury on Friday, the Wyofile reports.
Corner crossing means walking from one corner of public land to another corner of public, crossing diagonally between corners of private land. Phillip Yeomans, Bradly Cape, John Slowensky, and Zachary Smith (all from Missouri) used a small stepladder to cross from one parcel of public land to another while on a hunt in 2021. The public lands bordered private parcels of the Elk Mountain Ranch, which is held by Iron Bar Holdings, managed by billionaire Fred Eshelman.
The four hunters were initially charged with criminal trespassing by the Carbon County Attorney, facing $750 in fines and up to six months in jail. They pled not guilty.
While this ruling is certainly a victory for the four hunters and public land hunting advocates who have been watching this issue closely, a civil suit still looms in federal court. Iron Bar Holdings argued that the men “committed a civil trespass” and is seeking reparation for civil damages.
“Iron Bar Holdings has a right to exclusive control, use, and enjoyment of its Property, which includes the airspace at the corner, above the Property,” wrote prosecutors in the civil suit.
Once all of the hunters’ attorneys file the documents, the lawsuit will immediately go to the federal court system. Iron Bar Holdings will then have the opportunity to ask Judge Skavdahl for the suit to be moved back to the state.
For now, public land access advocates are celebrating an early victory.
“We’re very pleased with the outcome today seeing all four hunters acquitted of all charges for this criminal case,” says Brien Webster, the programs manager for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “We’re hopeful that we can avoid future scenarios of criminal prosecution of the public for attempting to access public lands and waters. We realize, too, that this isn’t a precedent setting as a decision, but we do see it as a step forward.”
The Wyoming chapter of BHA helped start a GoFundMe account for the four hunters. The effort raised more than $70,000 to cover legal fees in both the criminal and civil cases. But still, Webster and the Wyoming chapter of BHA say they hope there will be a fair and balanced outcome
“Private landowners have a lot of reasons to be concerned and we definitely understand that,” says Webster. “For us, we want to find a solution that avoids an arms race that would lead to an all-or-nothing decision. Our hope is that we can look at this situation and learn from it and maybe come together and have some real conversations about it in the coming months and years.”